Usually I write long introductions, but I am aware of the fact that many people do not like them, so in this post I will go straight to the point and if you would like, you can read my quick concluding thoughts at the end.
Here I go:
For you to understand why I think Hungarians are humble, I need to tell you a bit about my world first. In Panama and in other countries in Latin America, we always want to show a bit more than what we have. We might not be the most ostentatious culture in the world, but we do pay a lot of attention to appearance, a lot. We invest time and also money on how we look and what we show to the outside world, in an exaggerated manner I think. This is also to try to “reach” the next social class above you. I personally, while still living in Panama, spent too much money in brands and honestly, I regret, but anyway. Thing is, when I arrived here, I saw a different reality. Hungarians in general love other people because of their personality, not because one might have the latest smartphone, designer cloth or an expensive sports car. Are there materialistic Hungarians? Yes there are. Is it a majority? No, I do not think so. In the last 15 years I have met Hungarians from all social classes and all ages and most of them when they met people they did not look at what they are wearing. They are interested in you and the way you approach them. How did this whole thing change me? Sticking to the cloth example, when I buy cloth, my first priority is not anymore its brand, I care about value and depending on what it is, I might buy low quality, medium quality or high quality. For example short pants I buy them second hand as I can wear them only 2-3 months in the year. Shirts for the office, second hand as well, but high quality. I usually work from the office once a week and never meet clients face to face anyway. However, I do invest in a brand new high quality winter coat as it has a much more important function apart from covering our bodies.
One of the most fascinating things of living abroad is feeling welcome by the people of the country you live in and in Hungary if you speak 2 words of hungarian, you will feel very welcome. At the beginning, I did not plan to learn the language because I was told it was impossible to learn, but I learned 2 words, and then 2 more, and then 4 and then 10. And like that, I went from basic to intermediate and then to advanced. Throughout all the years that took me to learn the language, not one Hungarian person was inpatient with me. Did I encountered inpatient Hungarians? Yes, but not because I did not speak the language. They let me finish, they let me make mistakes and they corrected me. So I can say that all the Hungarians that I met in my first 7-8 years in the country were my teachers.
Hungarians, specially Nénis (old ladies), fall in love with you when you speak to them in the language and I think that is lovely. It is not like that in every country.
One of the very first things I noticed when I arrived in Hungary was that we Latinos smile more frequently and perhaps a smile in my culture, even if not always sincere, is a way to greet. And with time, I started noticing more and more cultural differences. And after learning the language I started noticing even more cultural differences. By learning about the culture, I also started learning more about my own culture and the way we are. Because of all of that together, when I travel or meet people from other countries I see cultural similarities and differences unintentionally. In other words, Hungarians indirectly taught me to be more culturally aware. I am very grateful for this because cultures fascinate me. So much so that I hold cultural differences trainings once a month in the company I work for.
In Panama we have the “quincena” which means biweekly pay, right? It means that we get our salaries every 2 weeks. Additionally, we are a “carpe diem” culture. We live strictly present-oriented lives. What happens when you mix quincena and carpe diem? It happens that many of us do not get to the next quincena with money in our pockets. Perhaps I was lucky, because back in Panama I was a waiter, so because of the tips I always had some money, but the truth of the matter is that I was configured for quincenas. When I started working in Hungary and got to know that payment is once a month I felt I was going to go bankrupt at the middle of the month. Fortunately it didn’t happen, but the journey was long until I got used to it and I could overwrite the default “quincena” configuration. That made me plan my monthly expenses much better and after some years, depending of course on how much was my salary, I started getting to the next month with surplus, which translated into some savings.
In my country, after one gets to the age of 18, the first thing you want is a car. I did not, but most people do, and this is the case for maybe most countries in the American continent. That has to do with infrastructure as well, but anyway. In Panama a majority of people rent instead of buying a property. In Hungary, people do not buy cars at the age of 18, they do not even think about buying a car and at the age of 25 for example, they are buying their first property, though small, but after all a property is a property. In the last couple of years it’s gotten very expensive, so this is changing, but if we look at the last 20-30 years, most people owned the place where they lived. This is a huge difference in mind-set. Instead of starting adult life with liabilities, you start with an asset. Most people in Hungary buy cars when they have a family, because of course the more people, the more problematic logistics become. In general, the mind-set is buy what you need and not what you want. My brother wanted me to learn this when I was a waiter and made good money with tips, but I never learned at that time. I learned here with Hungarians.
Just a couple of weeks after settling in Budapest I had my first interview. I was so new in Hungary I didn’t even know what was kolbász (sausage) or pogácsa (biscuits). Anyway, I got ready, went out and took the bus number 7. A little bit about context for young people reading: smart phones were still far from being mainstream, I had a Nokia 3310. Google that and you will know why I am talking about context. Coming back to the story, I felt strange as the bus was going, and going, and going and going and I could not hear the name of my stop. One hour passed and I arrived at the last stop. It was only an old lady and me getting off the bus. I was in front of Pólus centre and I needed to go to Móricz Zsigmond körtér. That is 15 kilometres of distance. Can you imagine? So, I started looking for somebody who could speak English and the person I found told me I took the correct bus but in the opposite direction. One hour later I arrived at the interview 2 hours late and the interviewer was German. What do you think happened? Surprisingly I got hired, haha.. He was an understanding human being. To avoid situations like this, I started planning more in detail in every aspect of my life. Now, if you know Hungarians, when talking about places, the very first thing they will ask is what is the street´s name and as soon as you tell them they automatically start thinking what is the best way to get there. I still cannot do that because I was born in Panama. Haha… We do not use street names, we use colours, landmarks, shapes, trees and pretty much anything unusual on that street to communicate directions. Of course, it has changed, now we use smartphones.
Around 6 years later. Once my wife and I went to Rome and we met a Panamanian classmate friend of mine and her family. She saw me taking a piece of paper out of my pocket to check what the next landmark was for us to see and how far it was. She was shocked. We were walking and even after one hour she could not let it go, she asked me for the paper again to see if it was real. It was unbelievable for her that a Panamanian had a sightseeing plan, hahahaha…
Yeah, as in many other areas, we Latinos are laid-back and this is no exception if we talk about problems. It is almost like religion for us to procrastinate on stuff and one week before the deadline we ask for help like crazy from anybody. “Amigo, amigo, amigo, ayuda por favor, es urgente”. And that is at any level, from simple to complex and from unimportant to really serious matters. By the way, I still fight with this, especially with administrative tasks or paperwork like tax declaration. Every January I start telling myself: “Renato, this year do it 2 months in advance” and I reply to myself, right? “Yes Renato, 2 months in advance”. Yeah right. Nevertheless, with many other things I do act faster or more proactively and that is thanks to Hungarians. They find a leakage in the kitchen for instance, and the same day they try to fix it. From the Latino point of view that is an exaggeration, we use a bucket as an interim solution and eventually the interim can become the permanent fix.
If you have ever been invited by Hungarians to their place, you know that they will cook their whole kitchen to welcome you and make sure you will not get out of their home hungry. In Panama we have portions and we share portions according to how many people are coming and who of those people eat a lot and eat little. I am not saying we do not share, but seeing the Hungarian way gave me another way to see it. I still measure, so that food is not wasted, but I like cooking or ordering a bit more without focusing on how much exactly the group will eat.
We Latinos are loud culturally and most probably genetically as well, but I did not do any research on that, so do not believe me. The most annoying for other cultures is our loudness in terms of party and music. We listen to music all day long and loudly, to the extent that we need to shout to talk. Thinking further about possible reasons, it could also be population density in comparison with Europe, although there are loud cultures within Europe as well. Anyway, my first journeys in public transportation here in Hungary made me realize almost immediately how silent Hungarians are. With time, I realized it is a general social norm that applies to any type of gathering in any type of environment, anything that is loud bothers Hungarians. Music, construction, cars, laughter, talking, pretty much anything a bit loud. Am I now silent? No, I am still loud. Hahaha.. The difference is that I now have sensors that based on the environment automatically regulate the volume of my voice. Ohh, and well, I do not have any sound system apart from earphones hahaha.. Do I still have problems because of this? Yes, sometimes in public transportation if I am talking to someone by phone in Spanish, my loud voice comes automatic and my sensors temporarily break down. Thing is, those occasions are rather rare now, while 10 years ago it would have been very frequently. All in all, I have not changed, I just try to respect the country that welcomed me.
Many of us expats find many annoying things in the culture of our new country, however I believe that if we open our minds a little bit, we can learn something even from those things that bother us. The important is to have a positive attitude even towards negative things.
That is the reason why many companies and even countries say and emphasize that cultural diversity fosters creativity and innovation. Cultural diversity is not easy though, it has many challenges, but with positive attitude there is much learning to leverage.
Have a nice day,
“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”